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Travel health information for people travelling abroad from the UK

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS CoV) 

Introduction

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) was discovered by Dutch researchers in September 2012, in Saudi Arabia.

Organism and Transmission

MERS-CoV is one of a variety of coronaviruses that can cause illness ranging from the common cold to pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome. MERS-CoV is considered by WHO to have the potential to evolve and spread.

The way the infection is spread is not known at present. Studies in Qatar have suggested that camels are a likely primary source of the MERS-CoV that is infecting humans. Other studies in Egypt, Oman and Saudi Arabia have found MERS-CoV antibodies in camels in Africa and the Middle East.

Transmission between cases and close contacts has been confirmed in the healthcare setting and the family home.

Geographical Distribution

Countries where cases have acquired the infection in-country from an unknown source include: Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar and United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Countries where cases are associated with travel or contact with a returned infected traveller include: Europe: Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey and United Kingdom. Rest of world: Algeria, China, Malaysia, Philippines, Republic of Korea (south), Tunisia and United States of America.

The Illness

MERS-CoV infection has an incubation period of up to ten days. It presents most frequently with fever and respiratory symptoms but has also presented with kidney failure, diarrhoea and severe fever.

Most Common Symptoms 

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Breathing difficulties.

Treatment

No vaccine or specific treatment is currently available. Treatment is supportive and based on the patient’s clinical condition.

Prevention in Travellers

The risk associated with MERS-CoV to the general UK population remains extremely low and the risk to travellers to the Arabian Peninsula and surrounding countries remains very low.

Although the source of the virus and the route of transmission is unknown, travellers should try to reduce the general risk of infection while travelling by:

  • Avoiding close contact with people suffering from respiratory infections.
  • Frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment.
  • Adhering to food safety and hygiene rules such as avoiding undercooked meats, raw fruits and vegetables unless they have been peeled, or unsafe water.
  • Avoiding close contact with live farm or wild animals.
  • Avoiding contact with camels, consumption of raw camel milk or camel products, eating undercooked camel meat.
  • Travellers to the Middle East and Republic of Korea (South) who develop symptoms either during travel or after their return should seek medical attention and share their history of travel.
  • People with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette (maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands) and to delay travel until their symptoms clear up.

Based on the information available, WHO does not advise special screening at points of entry with regard to this event nor does it currently recommend the application of any travel or trade restrictions.

Note: Some countries have however, introduced special screening at points of entry with regard to MERS-CoV.

Further Information

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